Rory McIlroy needed a spectator's help to stay on course in the British Masters today

Rory McIlroy needed the help of a spectator to keep his first round of the British Masters on track as he tries to end a disappointing season in style at Close House.

McIlroy, who was a late entry into the £3million event after failing to qualify for the Tour Championship, found himself five shots off the lead after covering his first nine holes in level par.

But it could have been worse for the four-time major winner if a spectator had not found his ball inside the five-minute time limit after a wild drive on the 17th.

McIlroy produced a superb recovery from thick rough to the elevated green and went on to save par, the 28-year-old having earlier dropped a shot on the 12th before making a birdie on the par-five 13th.

Paul Dunne holds a share of 4th place on the opening day. The Wicklow man lies on three under after six holes. Shane Lowry is two under through nine holes.

England's Chris Hanson and Sweden's Johan Carlsson were setting the early pace at five under par, Hanson carding a hat-trick of birdies from the second and also picking up shots on the sixth and seventh.

Spain's Alvaro Quiros, who has made just one halfway cut since winning the Rocco Forte Open earlier this season, was a shot behind, with Bradley Dredge, Lee Slattery and Dunne.

Defending champion Alex Noren was among the later starters alongside tournament host Lee Westwood and Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

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